Carreras became the second largest cigarette manufacturer in Britain. The business made its owner, Bernhard Baron, one of the richest men in the world. Carreras introduced the Craven A cigarette brand, which is still sold.
Jose Joaquin de Carreras
Jose Joaquin de Carreras (1824 – 1887) was the son of a Spanish nobleman who had claimed political asylum in Britain. Carreras had established a tobacconist business at 61 Princes Street, later renamed 7 Wardour Street, near Leicester Square, London, by 1853.
Carreras catered towards an affluent market, including George Craven, 3rd Earl of Craven (1841 – 1883), for whom he created a personalised tobacco blend in the early 1860s. The reputation of the product grew through the Earl’s social circle, and it was packaged in tins and sold to the wider public as Craven’s Mixture from 1867.
William Johnston Yapp
William Johnston Yapp (1861 – 1946) acquired the Carreras tobacconist shop for £3,525 in 1896.
The business was to prove successful under Yapp, although he would later claim that he simply got lucky. Business practices were certainly lax by the standards of today, and no financial accounts were kept.
Carreras continued to supply the quality upper-class market. It was a relatively small, though well-regarded business. J M Barrie (1860 – 1937), the author best known for Peter Pan, was a keen smoker of Craven’s Mixture.
Bernhard Baron (1850 – 1929) was born to a poor French Jewish family in Brest-Litovsk, now part of Belarus, but then a part of the Russian Empire. When he was a child the family relocated to Rostov-on-Don in Southern Russia. His father was keen for him to avoid military conscription, so the family emigrated to Maryland, United States, in 1866.
Baron worked in a tobacconist’s shop, then a cigar factory. He had established Baron & Co, cigar manufacturers, on Pratt Street, Baltimore by 1879.
An inventive man, Baron designed a cigarette manufacturing machine. After he failed to sell it successfully in the United States, he relocated to England in 1896. He sold the patent rights to John Player & Sons, and other manufacturers, and made £150,000.
Carreras becomes a public company
Yapp had previously approached Imperial Tobacco and the American Tobacco Company regarding a sale of Carreras, but his proposed price of £150,000 was regarded as too expensive.
Yapp registered Carreras as a public company with a capital of £200,000 in 1903. The company was controlled by John Crowle (1841 – 1906), chairman, Baron, managing director, and Yapp.
Black Cat cigarettes were introduced from 1904.
Crowle died in 1906, and Baron took over as chairman and managing director. Baron struggled for his first five years with Carreras, but maintained his faith in extensive advertising.
Black Cat cigarettes had national distribution by 1908.
A large new factory was established on City Road, London, from 1910.
The Craven A cigarette, based on the Craven blend, had been introduced by 1914. It was to prove an immediate success. Carreras sales increased significantly during the First World War, and the factory had reached capacity by 1916.
The Baron cigarette manufacturing machinery was constantly improved. Baron claimed that Carreras had “the fastest, most efficient, and up-to-date cigarette-making machine in the world” by 1920.
Carreras became one of the first tobacco companies in Britain to package gift coupons with its cigarettes from the early 1920s.
The Carreras share price rose fourfold between 1922 and 1926. Half of production was exported by 1927.
Baron was notable for the exceptional treatment of his employees. He was quoted as saying, “My workpeople I regard as my children. I have only done what I think was right”.
Baron established a new factory in Mornington Crescent in 1928.It was perhaps the largest tobacco factory in the world, with nine acres of floorspace. It was the largest reinforced concrete building in Britain, as well as the largest factory in London, and boasted air-conditioning.
Baron established a charitable trust for hospitals in 1928 to which he donated £500,000. He gave away over £2 million across his lifetime, and was perhaps the most generous benefactor that Britain had known at the time.
Carreras was the second-largest cigarette manufacturer in Britain by 1928.
Bernhard Baron died in 1929 with an estate valued at £5 million. He was one of the richest men in the world. He was succeeded by his son, Louis Bernhard Baron (1876 – 1934).
John Sinclair Ltd was acquired in 1930.
Advertising claimed that Craven A was the most widely smoked cork-tipped cigarette in the world by 1932.
Carreras held 14 percent of the British cigarette market in 1933. The company employed 4,000 people by 1934.
Louis Baron died in 1934, and he was succeeded as managing director by his nephew, Edward Samson Baron (1892 – 1962).
Yapp died in 1946 with an estate valued at £4.3 million. After making some bequests, he dedicated his fortune to charity.
Carreras acquired the valuable trademark rights to Alfred Dunhill cigarettes in the United Kingdom from 1952. Within three months Dunhills were the third highest-selling cigarettes in the London area.
Acquisition by Rembrandt Tobacco Corporation
The end of quota controls in 1955 allowed Imperial Tobacco to increase its sales of Players cigarettes. The Carreras brands such as Craven A and Dunhill suffered, and the company’s share of the cigarette market had declined to just three percent by 1955.
In the face of steadily declining profits, Carreras was acquired by the Rembrandt Tobacco Corporation of South Africa, controlled by Anton Rupert (1916 – 2006), for £1.3 million in 1958. Rupert merged Carreras business with Rothmans, which he already controlled.
Rupert was a dynamic man, who described business as like a game of chess, but with dynamite for pawns.
Edward S Baron retired as chairman and managing director of Carreras in 1958, but was retained as president and consultant.
Carreras Rothmans opened a new factory in Basildon, Essex, in 1959. The Mornington Crescent factory was unsuitable for modernisation, and was sold off and converted into offices. Guards and Piccadilly cigarettes were the principal brands.
Rupert was highly critical of the former Carreras management and board of directors. He suggested that brand sales had suffered due to “a lack of sufficient research, proper planning and packaging”. The company had not downsized its superstructure to reflect its declining sales. Much of the machinery was outdated. He found inefficiencies everywhere.
Rupert outsourced some operations to lower costs. He also focused on filtered cigarette production.
Edward S Baron, once reckoned one of the wealthiest tobacco manufacturers in Britain, died in 1962 with a net estate valued at just £20,549.
Carreras had captured six percent of the British filtered cigarette market by 1963. 90 percent of Carreras production for the British market was for filtered cigarettes. The Basildon factory produced half of all cigarettes exported from Britain.
A cigarette factory was opened in Jamaica in 1963.
A factory was opened in Northern Ireland in 1965, which doubled production capacity.
Carreras Rothmans profits increased fourfold between 1960 and 1966. Carreras Rothmans was the third largest tobacco manufacturer in Britain by 1967.
The company held the majority of the Jamaican cigarette market by 1972.
The Basildon factory was among the most modern in Europe by 1973 and employed 2,500 people. Carreras Rothmans accounted for 61 percent of all British cigarette exports.
A factory was opened in Darlington in 1977 to meet increasing export demands. The Spennymoor factory was opened in 1979.
Craven A cigarettes were produced in 17 factories in 14 countries by 1979. British-made Cravens were exported to a further 82 countries.
The Basildon site was closed with the loss of 1,200 jobs in 1984.
Carreras Rothmans was acquired by British American Tobacco in 1999.
As of 2020, Craven A cigarettes are still sold in various markets, including Jamaica, Canada, Australia and South Africa.